Skiing, Mozartkugeln and Tiroler speck in Innsbruck, Austria

My German friend Magda lives and studies in Innsbruck, Austria. Here she tells us a bit more about what to do when visiting one of her now-favourite places:

1. Must-see?

Be sure to venture out to the mountains during winter. Take the lift up to Nordkette in the north or Patscherkofel and Serles in the south for great skiing and hiking. The views from there are just spectacular. It is also internationally renowned for its great winter sports. So be sure to bring your snow gear!

2. Which are the best area(s) to stay in? Why?

Try to stay in the city centre or at least close to the Inn river. It is one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen. All the best museums like Riesenrundgemälde and the Bell Museum are within walking distance from here. You’ll also find a cosy little café around every corner.

3. How expensive is the city?

Expensive. You’ll find that food is extremely expensive and renting a one bedroom in a three bedroom flat is about R4000 a month. So be sure to save up before you go!

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4. Which local delicacy would you recommend?

Definitely the Mozartkugeln (above) – marzipan chocolate balls with nougat inside –  if you have a sweet tooth. Tiroler speck is also a must for the bacon lovers. Yum!

5. How many days do you need ideally?

Ideally you need about five days, but that depends on how long you plan to snowboard or ski.

6. Fun facts?
The first Winter Youth Olympics was held in Innsbruck in 2012.
Originally posted on Travelstart.

SULTANAHMET, TURKISH BATHS AND DONER KEBABS IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY

1. Where?

Istanbul, Turkey

2. Which area did you stay in? How was it?

Sultanahmet, the Old City. When visiting Istanbul it is a must to stay in this area. It is so authentically beautiful and intriguing. Find all the best sights close by and enjoy the charm of the locals on the streets.

3. Which were your favourite sights? Why?

The Basilica Cistern, The Blue Mosque and the Turkish baths of course. There’s nothing like a traditional Turkish bath.

Also clear a few hours from your schedule for shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Here you can find basically anything from handmade Backgammon boards to turquoise rings and vintage trinkets.

4. What local delicacy should one try?

Everything here smells amazing, from the fresh Turkish coffees to the syrupy baklavas and the doner kebabs. All of these can basically be found on every street corner. Also drink lots of Efes beer and apple tea.

5. How expensive is it there?

Relatively cheap compared to most European cities.

6. Are the people helpful/friendly?

Very friendly and helpful. Take the locals’ tips, sometimes it can really help in a city so overrun by tourists.

7. How many days do you need? 

A minimum of four days, especially if you want to visit the exquisite Prince’s Islands.

Panormos Beach, Mykonos

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On a recent trip to Mykonos island, I took the advice from a Greek woman I met in Athens, and visited the secluded beach of Panormos. Situated on the north side of the island – quite far from where we were staying at the old port – my fiancé and I got up around 8am, had breakfast of cheese, bread and boiled eggs and hopped on our scooters. Off we went!

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Most of Mykonos’ more commercial beaches have sunbathing chairs for rent, usually about 5 euros. On Panormos beach you’ll find an even more comfortable option: extra large beach cushions for free! The only condition is that you buy a drink or order some food from the fabulous adjacent restaurant – something we were planning to do anyway.

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We had beers and frappes as we took in the most spectacular scenery and had a dip in the chilly, yet super refreshing ocean. A perfect day, and a must-visit spot!

The Old Town, yachting and the photogenic town of Perast in Kotor, Montenegro

My brother André recently visited Kotor in Montenegro. The photos really drew me in, made me think of Monte Carlo. I asked him a few questions:

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1. In which area did you stay? How was it?

The town is very small, and can basically be divided into “Old Town” and “not-Old Town”. The Old Town is in the heart of the town, on the edge of the fjord, surrounded by high walls and at the foot of a mountain on whose slopes sit the remnants of a church and a former fortress. We stayed in a bed & breakfast a few hundred metres from the Old Town, up some very steep roads.

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2. Which were the top sights you saw?

Old Town is the only thing to see in Kotor, unless you want the high-flyin’ (or rather, high-sailin’) experience and hire one of the many luxury yachts moored in the harbour. It costs 3 euros per person to climb the mountain and reach the church and the fortress (it takes 20-30 minutes to reach the top). But the main thing to see around here is the small and incredibly photogenic town of Perast, which has far fewer tourists, some magnificent (but still affordable) restaurants, and a stunning view over the fjord, with two small islands a 3-minute speedboat ride away.

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3. How easy is it to get around?

It is very easy to get around on foot or by minibus. Minibuses leave the bus station on a regular basis and can take you to Perast or farther along the fjord, or in the opposite direction to the beaches of Budva.

4. How many days do you need here?

Kotor doesn’t really have any beaches of its own, and neither do most of the towns along the fjord. For that, you’d have to brave the tourist-ridden sands of Budva. Kotor and Perast can be thoroughly enjoyed in two days.

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5. What is a must-have local delicacy?

A treat across the Balkans is rakia, or a regional brandy. Try the apricot variety: It is strong but smooth. Just don’t have it on an empty stomach.

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6. Are people friendly and can they converse in English?

People are generally very friendly, and since Kotor literally draws boatloads full of tourists every day, with cruise ships that put the Titanic to shame dropping anchor in the bay, most people have at least a basic level of English.

The central train station, waffles and walking tours in Antwerp, Belgium

My friend, Shelley Edwards studies in Antwerp, Belgium. Here she lets us in on her day to day life and gives us some helpful tips:

1. City: Antwerp, Belgium

2. In which area should you stay?

In the heart of the city! But this would of course depend on your budget. The public transport system within Belgium is very good, so even if you stay in the outskirts of Antwerp and travel into the city centre, you can be guaranteed of a means of transport.

3. You simply must see…

The Central Train Station. It has been voted as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, and not surprisingly so. Also, I would recommend taking a tour around Antwerp with a guide, because the history of the first printing press in the world, of the first stock market in the world and the history of fashion in Antwerp is fascinating.

4. You simply must do…

A walk-a-bout and view the cathedrals. Not only are the structures of the churches beautiful, with immensely intricate sculptures dotted along the walls, but many of the larger cathedrals house story-high artworks, which defy the imagination.
Also the Antwerp zoo is worth a visit, but it may take you a few hours to wonder around; it is huge!

5. You simply must eat…

Belgium is known for “frites”, or fried chips, chocolate and of course waffles. Also, Belgium beers are famous throughout the world. Within Antwerp, a small distillery makes a liqueur from 30 different herbs, called “Elixir d’Anvers”, which is a wonderful digestive after a big meal. Jenever is also a popular local liqueur, with over 200 different varieties.

6. Are the people friendly/ helpful?

As a tourist, you will find Antwerp people very friendly and helpful, with many people able to speak English. I have not had a communication problem here yet, and in the few short months that I have been here, I have made a number of great friends.

7. How many days do you need in the city?

In order to experience the centre of Antwerp fully, I would set aside about 3 days. But I would also extend my stay within Antwerp a bit longer and travel to surrounding cities (like Ghent and Brugge), which are short train rides away. Antwerp accommodation is cheaper compared to e.g. Brussels, so using Antwerp as a base to explore Belgium is a great idea.

8. Any fun facts?

Antwerp has a rich history of firsts: first printing press in the world, first stock market exchange in the world. As I said, it’s really worth a walking tour of the city (about 3 hours) with a tour guide.

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